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    Entries in common good (2)

    Wednesday
    Mar052014

    Future Hope, Our Horizons, and Present Holiness :: A Review of Skye Jethani's Futureville

    Our approach to eschatology has changed. Or at least it is shifting. In articles, books, sermons, and conference presentations, I have noticed that the collective future of the human race is a common theme. That future is no longer spoken of, at the popular level, with a strong emphasis on the unfolding of events running parallel to a charted assembly of Bible passages, or within the framework of a pre-, post-, or a-millennial system. Instead, there is general interest in how we move from the garden to the city, how the vision given at the conclusion of the Book of Revelation is realized, how the death and resurrection of Jesus is itself a hinge, and how the present work of Christian people takes shape in light of our future hope. Along the way, some traditional theological constructs are alluded to and set aside as necessary ground-clearing before raising a related, yet unique edifice. Skye Jethani's Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow runs along these lines, and is one more contribution to this conversation.

    This is a book about today, how one lives, and the reality that we all live now in light of some vision of the future. Our choices reveal our orientation. This is true for all people. As Jethani writes:

    This book is not about the future. It is about the present. It is about determining what sort of life is truly meaningful. It is about rethinking the way we relate to the world and our purpose within it. How we decide what matters today, however, cannot be separated by what we believe about tomorrow.

    This is good and right. But our orientation toward the future is complicated, the result of factors within and outside our control.

    To illustrate, Jethani begins his analysis with the narrative of his own upbringing, compared to that of his grandparents, showing how his outlook on family, relationships, marriage, career, church, and more have been absorbed. His grandparents were shaped more by the Great Depression. In 1939, people of that generation were given an alternative at the New York World's Fair. For those living today, we need something even more compelling, more robust. Jethani believes Christians already have been given such a vision, "we believe that a meaningful life is one spent participating in what God is doing--God's mission. But the scope of God's mission is defined by what we believe the future looks like, by what will endure. So we cannot begin to define how we should live in this world without exploring what we believe about the world to come."

    Once Jethani has fixed the gaze of his reader upon God's future, and set their orientation toward the fulfillment of all history, he fills in the details. He tells the story of the Bible, from garden to city, and points us toward our hope, named in Revelation and made certain in Christ, as the moment God makes his dwelling place among people. But Jethani also names the alternative narratives, or dangers, that both compete and pull us off track. He names how assumptions we carry with us after the Enlightenment, and secular applications of evolution as an all-encompassing theory, can lead us toward destruction. He names how theological pitfalls, such as the belief that God will evacuate the faithful from this Earth, and discard it as inconsequential, can lead to apathy and disengagement with our neighbors and the created order, which we are called to steward. Jethani treats the Christian doctrines of resurrection and vocation as antidotes that combat the impulse to discard our weaker members or distance ourselves from the world's hurting, and lend dignity to Christians in their present work and calling. His thoughts on order, beauty, and abundance call faithful Christians to work for the common good of all people, to love their communities, to create in ways that point to the Creator, and to share resources with all who have need.

    The final note sounded is that of ultimate hope--Christ. Christ has redeemed the world, and is working within it through his people to set it to right, until the day he comes to bind up wounds, heal the brokenhearted, give judgment on behalf of the poor, reprove the wicked, and establish peace. Until that day, "we pray for the eyes to see the evidence of the garden all around us in the lives and faithfulness of Christ's people and their works, and we seek to cultivate those glimpses for others as we listen to and obey his calling for our lives."

    Futureville is a well told, compelling theological narrative, marked by sound exegesis and clear illustration of theological truth. Jethani is also vulnerable and transparent, open concerning his own journey. Some readers may disagree with his overall framework, or take issue with his presentation of some Christian theological pitfalls. But, overall, I found this book instructive. Christian people are in need of a vision encompassing the need for personal piety and social engagement. We need a vision that inspires us to work for the good of all people--even those who do not believe like us. We need to see Christ as the redeemer of all things, including souls, yet extending to all of creation. We need to see that the world, though fallen, was created by God and named good. We need an imaginative horizon that enables us to conceive where our world might be headed--and we need this horizon to be defined by the gospel of and about Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

    Most of us doubt we have much power to shape or impact the world in a grandiose way. But Jethani's work reminds us that in our careers, families, churches, and communities, every interaction has the latent capacity to bring healing, flourishing, and a future that more keenly resembles the reality Christ will establish as normative at the end of the age. Let us be agents of hope, faithful and true, committed to Christ, and vehicles of his grace.

    Thursday
    Dec062012

    Common Grace :: Appreciating Good Work in All Forms

    Año Mozart

    Common grace is a notion that is having a bit of a resurgence, and for good reason. In a predominantly Christian culture, the occurrences of grace outside of Christian circles are seldom noticed, for it is seldom experienced. But in a post-Christian culture, where more and more Christians find themselves working alongside or in partnership with non-Christians, experiences of truth and beauty apart from Christian belief widen our conception of God's work and God's grace, and with good reason. While God is at work in a unique way within the communities and individual lives of those who profess faith in Jesus, God is not confined to those circles. And thank goodness!

    Today we consider common grace as we continue meditating on work. "Common grace," or the notion that God dispenses good gifts to people of all races and cultures regardless of belief in him, is testified to in the Bible and has a rich history within the Christian theological tradition. This doctrine has implications for work and for our interactions with others in society, and is quite liberating for our relationships with friends and neighbors who are do not believe in Christ. A robust understanding of common grace frees us to engage with and study all of human culture, and to work together with people of good will who are also unbelievers, when our purposes overlap.

    Timothy Keller is again illuminating:

    Without an understanding of common grace, Christians will believe they can live self-sufficiently within their own cultural enclave. Some might feel that we should go only to Christian doctors, work only with Christian lawyers, listen only to Christian counselors, or enjoy only Christian artists. Of course, all non-believers have seriously impaired spiritual vision. Yet so many of the gifts God has put in the world are given to non-believers. Mozart was a gift to us--whether he was a believer or not. So Christians are free to study the world of human culture in order to know more of God; for as creatures made in his image we can appreciate truth and wisdom wherever we find it.

    Common grace means that good work can be found in every field of endeavor, being performed by Christians and non-Christians alike. But Keller, again with wisdom, says, "Christians' work with others should be marked by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation." Our tradition gives us the resources to work with others outside our community for the common good, while also naming "how our own Christian faith gives us powerful resources and guidance for what we are doing."

    You Might Also Be Interested In:


    Gardening and Culture Making :: The Pattern for All of Work
    Christianity and All Forms of Work
    Tim Keller on MSNBC